It’s official: The panel of national experts in prevention and evidence-based medicine known as the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) now recommends colorectal cancer screening for Americans to begin at age 45, rather than at 50, as was previously the standard. The new recommendations, finalized and published on May 18, 2021 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, make an additional 21 million adults eligible for insurance-covered screening. Options include direct visualization tests such as colonoscopy, flexible sigmoidoscopy, or stool-based tests such as the FIT.
Colorectal cancer is the third most diagnosed cancer and the second leading cause of cancer-related death for men and women in the United States. But there is good news. Unlike other types of cancer, colorectal cancer has a greater than 90% cure rate if it is found early. The best way to be proactive and to detect and remove benign growths before cancer forms is for everyone to schedule and complete a routine colorectal cancer screening test.
UCLA Health recommends that patients either have a colonoscopy or complete a stool-based test at home.
A colonoscopy is an outpatient procedure that is performed at a surgical center or hospital. During the procedure, the patient is sedated so that a gastroenterologist can look inside their colon using a small instrument that has a light and camera attached, called a colonoscope. Using a colonoscope, the physician can find small growths, known as polyps. While most polyps are benign, some can become cancerous over time. Removing polyps during a routine colonoscopy is the best way to prevent colon cancer.
A fecal immunochemical test (FIT) is a stool-based test that can be completed at home. The patient will need to collect a stool sample and then drop the kit off at a UCLA Health office or mail it to a lab for testing. If any blood is found in the stool, it is considered a positive result, and a diagnostic colonoscopy is required.
According to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, most people should begin screening for colorectal cancer at 45. Anyone with a family history of colorectal cancer should discuss their ideal screening timeline with their physician.
A colonoscopy should be repeated every 10 years so that any polyps can be removed before they turn cancerous. If any polyps are found, the colonoscopy may be repeated sooner. A FIT should be completed annually.
Patients should not wait for symptoms, such as blood in their stool or changes in their bowel habits, to screen for colorectal cancer.
To schedule a colonoscopy, your doctor will need to first place a referral for the procedure. You will likely need to make an appointment with your primary care doctor so that he or she can determine if you need a colonoscopy and order the procedure if appropriate.
A gastroenterologist is a doctor who specializes in treating conditions of the gastrointestinal system and is trained to perform colonoscopies. In many cases, it is not necessary to see a gastroenterologist in clinic before scheduling a colonoscopy. Your primary care doctor can tell you about the procedure and everything you need to know to prepare for colonoscopy.
To schedule a colonoscopy procedure once your doctor has placed an order for you.
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